Isaac Canyon, Zion National Park – Sep 2005


It was mythic, this canyon we called Isaac between Isaac and Abraham. John Middendorf and Walt Shipley had been down the end of it, after summiting Abraham, and we knew people who knew people… but, we failed to find anyone who had actually been down it. Our beta was vague, and this, as much as anything, drew us in. Our team was strong.

What we had been told was this: CAN be accessed via the S Fork of Heaps Canyon, but requires a pitch or two of moderate 5th class to get there. Maybe handcracks. We assembled a strong team, brought a dynamic rope and a small rack, and decided on a two-day venture. The uncertainty called for caution, the late September overnight temps called for some real bivy gear.

Team Isaac 2005

I had not been down the Gunsight entrance to Heaps, so now was my chance. We figured on dropping that, then crossing into the South Fork of Heaps, up that and over into Isaac. We brought dry suits and a 300′ rope, in case we were repulsed by Isaac, so we could ‘escape’ out Heaps. The packs were heavy.

The Gunsight is a pretty interesting place – a big slit between two faces. Downclimbs alternate with rappels. It was a tad warm, as the sun was full on when we started, but it cooled off as we got lower.

Working down Gunsight

Stevee downclimbed a lot of the Gunsight. At first I was kind of appalled, then came to be impressed. Steve has always been one of our top downclimbers, and I thought I had improved my game to get closer – but he had upped his game too, and I was still the junior league representative on this trip.

After the impressive opening slit, the canyons snakes around some and is more ‘normal’. With a few creative traverses, we avoided both getting wet, and having to put the suits on.

Soon we were at the Crossroads, right around 5 pm. We took a break. Should we charge up the S Fork? Well, maybe just till we got to the difficulties – maybe take the highest decent bivy spot.

We started to hear voices. Siren’s voices, from upcanyon. Ram went to investigate – there were indeed two women headed our way. We slicked down our hair and tucked in our shirts as they splashed through the pothole to meet us. Bonnie from Salt Lake had been down the week before, and was forced to leave ropes on the last rappel. Now she was returning with her friend Jackie from Las Vegas to reclaim them. They looked beat. Both drysuits were leaking, and they had spent hours working through the Phantom Valley section of Heaps in difficult conditions. But they were game – good at em.

After a bit of chatter, they departed, and we decided to go UP the S Fork and see what there was to see. An interesting mantle move was required to get started, and from there the canyon was a little rough but not bad. Two hours later, we crested the pass. No 5.8 handcrack, no fifth class pitches. Admittedly, we DID have to take the packs off for a couple moves, but…

Not entirely dissappointed, we found ourselves in a VERY deep canyon, an interesting, fault-based canyon. Not a lot of signs of waterflow. Pretty lush. Its nice to get out in a place that shows almost zero signs of people, once in a while. We mosey’d on downcanyon till we found a reasonable place to bivy.

Cozy Bivy Spot

In the morning, headed downcanyon. A few rappels, a few boulders to climb under. With the supposed difficulties evaporated, we had a nice, leisurely crawl down the canyon. Fun to get out with good friends only once in a while.

We found a variety of interesting anchors. I pulled out a two-pin anchor with about 5 lbs of pressure – John and Walt’s? Could also be from Jeff Lowe BITD. There were several other hardware anchors about, and many easy to get natural ones available. Jeesh, climbers!

Old bolt and Tat

This nice bolt was above a 4th class downclimb. I guess with heavy haulbags it makes sense, but… The sling is tubular webbing, and was pretty torn up. Sand had washed inside the tube during flashfloods. We cleaned the sling, but left the bolt.

RT bolt on the last rappel. I did not figure it out at the time, but this is from Royce Trapier, Zion canyoneering pioneer, probably from the 80’s.

Looong rap at the end

The final rappel – kind of a big one. Like many of the springs in Zion, this one was developed and piped to the road for use at facilities. Interesting ladders and tied off metal thingees. With our long rope, we did it as a single rap, 280 feet.

There was an old climber’s station about half-way down, (about where Steve is in one of the pictures) so its possible to do it with raps of less than 200 feet. Old pin anchors like that tend to be no longer strong. (But other anchor possibilities are probably present).

The Court of the Patriarchs is quite an amazing place. We walked out and headed into town for some ice cream.


About Tom Jones

Tom is the progenitor of Tom's Utah Canyoneering Guide, Utah's premier canyoneering information resource, and Imlay Canyon Gear, America's #1 maker of canyoneering-specific gear. If he's not canyoneering, he's probably snuggled up with a good book.
Posted on Sep 16th, 2005 Canyoneering, Exploration, Heaps Canyon, Tom Jones, Tom's First Visit, Trip Report, Zion  ,  ,

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